On April 3, 2017, Academy of American Poets staff rallied in support of federal funding for the arts and humanities, and Academy of American Poets Executive Director Jennifer Benka testified before the New York City Council's Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations in support of proposed Res. No. 1393-A, which would call President Donald Trump to “fully fund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and not to eliminate or diminish any of these agencies in any form." Read Benka's testimonial below.
Thank you, Council Members, for this opportunity to speak before you this afternoon, and for your leadership in support of funding for the arts and humanities.
I’m Jennifer Benka, the executive director of the Academy of American Poets, which was founded in New York City in 1934. We are the largest poetry organization in the city, and also the nation’s largest membership-based advocate for poets and the art of poetry.
New York City is our nation’s poetry capital. We are the city where Whitman walked, where Emma Lazarus left her lines welcoming immigrants to our shores, the home of the Harlem Renaissance, and the spoken word and hip hop revolution.
More working poets live in our city than any other, and we have more nonprofit literary organizations and presses than any other working to support those poets by employing them, publishing them, featuring them in readings, and sharing their work on digital channels.
Not only do our organizations ensure that New York City’s literary reputation remains, we reach thousands of residents and tourists with literary events each year, and close to a million city residents online.
Poetry is an efficient and inexpensive art to produce and share. With very little investment, we provide an arts experience for an incredibly wide audience.
On our website, Poets.org, we maintain one of the world’s most popular collections of poems, and last year 982,000 New Yorkers visited the site to read poems—including 30,676 who read Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” and 22,391 who read Langston Hughes’s “Let America Be America Again.” Both poems that speak to our present moment in profound ways.
We celebrate National Poetry Month each April with a number of programs, including one of our nation’s largest poetry events, Poetry & the Creative Mind at Lincoln Center, which is attended by 1,000 individuals.
We provide numerous free resources for New York City school teachers so that they might share poetry with their students. And, we’ve worked with social studies teachers on curriculum that integrates poetry as a way to teach history.
All of these programs—Poets.org, National Poetry Month, our many readings, and our educator resources—are made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Together these agencies contribute $75,000 - $100,000 to our annual budget.
Without this federal funding, many of our wide-reaching and impactful efforts will likely be jeopardized.
Poets have few opportunities for support. NEA fellowships are critical to sustaining the art form.
Poetry matters. The arts and humanities encourage reflection, empathy, and imagination—all qualities necessary to our individual and collective success. American poetry and literature do more than preserve the unique stories of our citizens; they shape our civic identity.
The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities support invaluable services to New York City residents. The Academy of American Poets expresses our strongest possible support for continued federal funding for the arts and humanities.